I have an interview for a postdoc position in Mathematics at a very good university in the UK. The interview committee comprises a maths professor (not in my field, which is analysis of PDEs) and three other professors from other scientific disciplines.

I do not expect any technical questions since they are not in my field. But I am worried they will ask me: "why is your work important/useful/relevant?" in the context of applications to real-life. What can I say in such a situation? Also does anyone have any general advice to what such a panel might ask me?

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    Is it an applied postdoc? If you're working in PDEs then "real life" applications (as though maths isn't real life!) shouldn't be too tough to come up with? I don't think the panel is necessarily looking for killer answers here, they just want to see that you've thought about how your work fits in the "bigger picture". May 12, 2015 at 19:15
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    please slap them if they use the phrase "real life" :D May 12, 2015 at 19:15
  • Also, is the postdoc for a specific project (e.g. on an EPSRC grant) or will you be doing independent research? May 12, 2015 at 19:21
  • @P.Windridge Thanks for the advice. Basically the university awards x number of maths postdocs in a year, and those are awarded by this committee. Essentially I can do what I want if I get the postdoc.
    – JackPasl
    May 12, 2015 at 19:31
  • For specific postdoc positions in the UK the panel is required to ask all interviewees the same set of technical questions. I mention this because you say you don't expect this kind of question, just in case.
    – Miguel
    May 12, 2015 at 19:38

1 Answer 1


Why should you be worried? This is a pretty standard postdoc position interview question and you should be prepared to answer it.

I echo P.Windridge's comment:- your specific answer may be less important than a clear indication that you've considered how your research fits in, extends, challenges, tests the current state of the art in your field.

You've set the problem of answering this question in the context of "real life", whatever that is. For your specific case, I would have thought the "real life" applications of PDEs is easily referenced.

  • Well I work in existence of solutions to PDEs. So I can say eg. "this PDE comes from heat diffusion across a rod" though my work has nothing to do with the physical motivation of it. I just feel "cheap" for saying something like that but I guess I have to.
    – JackPasl
    May 13, 2015 at 15:55

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